August 28, 29, 1857 — Bonaventure Hall, Montreal, Canada
The last and most difficult office imposed on Psyche was to descend to the lower regions and bring back a portion of Proserpine’s beauty in a box. The too inquisitive goddess, impelled by curiosity or perhaps by a desire to add to her own charms, raised the lid, and behold, there issued forth — a vapor! which was all there was of that wondrous beauty.
In attempting to give a definition of beauty, I have painfully felt the force of this classic parable. If I settle upon a standard of beauty in Paris, I find it will not do when I get to Constantinople. Personal qualities the most opposite imaginable are each looked upon as beautiful in different countries, and even by different people of the same country. That which is deformity at New York may be beauty at Pekin. The poet Cowley says —
Beauty, thou wild fantastic ape,
Who dost in every country change thy shape,
Here black, there brown, here tawny, and there white.
At one place the sighing lover sees “Helen” in an Egyptian brow. In China, black teeth, painted eyelids, and plucked eyebrows are beautiful; and should a woman’s feet be large enough to walk upon, their owners are looked upon as monsters of ugliness.
The Liliputian daine is the beau ideal of beauty in the eyes of a Northern gallant; while in Patagonia they have a most Polyphemus standard of beauty. I have read of nations where a man makes no pretensions to being well favored without five or six scars in his face. And this, which was probably a mere accident connected with valor, grew at last to have so entire a share in the idea of beauty, that it became a custom to slash the faces of infants.
Said Voltaire, “Ask a toad what is beauty, the supremely beautiful, the to kalon, he will answer you that it is his female, with two large round eyes projecting out of its little head, a broad, flat neck, yellow breast, and dark brown back!” Ask a Guinea negro the same question, and he will point you to a greasy black skin, hollow eyes, thick lips, and a flat nose, with perhaps an ingot of gold in it.
With the modern Greeks and other nations on the shores of the Mediterranean, corpulency is the perfection of form in a woman; the very attributes which disgust the western European, form the highest attractions of an Oriental fair. It was from the common and admired shape of his country women, that Rubens, in his pictures, delights in a vulgar and almost odious plumpness. He seems to have no idea of beauty under two hundred pounds. His very Graces are all fat.
Hair is a beautiful ornament of woman, but it has always been a disputed point as to what color it shall be. I believe that most people now-a-days look upon a red head with disfavor — but in the times of Queen Elizabeth it was in fashion. Mary of Scotland, though she had exquisite hair of her own, wore red fronts out of compliment to fashion and the redheaded Queen of England.
That famous beauty, Cleopatra, was red-haired also; and the Venetian ladies to this day counterfeit yellow hair.
Yellow hair has a higher authority still. The ORDER OF THE GOLDEN FLEECE, instituted by Philip, Duke of Burgundy, was in honor of a frail beauty whose hair was yellow.
So, ladies and gentlemen, this thing of beauty which I come to talk about, has a somewhat migratory and fickle standard of its own. All the lovers of the world will have their own idea of the thing in spite of me.
A lover of Gongora, for instance, sighs for lips an inch thick: while a Chinese lover is mad in praise of lips so thin, that they are no lips at all. In Circassia, a straight nose is the only nose of beauty — cross but a mountain which separates it from a Tarrtary, and there flat noses, tawny skins, and eyes three inches asunder, are all the fashion.
But I must stop this, lest I unsettle the faith of many a fair lady in the only good which her soul hankers after, and sweep away the airy foundations on which so many millions of lovers are rapturously reposing. I suspect they would not thank me for that. I can remember, when I was younger than I am now, with what sullen, pouting kind of surprise I read out of Mr. Hume’s Essays, that “there is nothing in itself beautiful or deformed, desirable or hateful; but these attributes arise from the peculiar constitution and fabric of human sentiment and affection.”
My experience has since led me to a personal knowledge of the various types of beauty in all quarters of the world; and though I am not prepared to argue the truth of Mr. Hume’s proposition in its full extent, yet I am free to confess that I find the greatest difficulty in sketching in my own mind the details of any infallible standard of a beautiful woman,
Canova was obliged to have sixty different women sit for his Venus; and how shall we dare point to any one woman, and say that she is perfectly beautiful? When Zeuxis drew his famous picture of Helen, he modelled his portrait from the separate charms of five different virgins.
But though there is this difficulty in settling upon a perfect standard of female beauty, there can be no doubt about its power over the customs and institutions of mankind. The beauty of woman has settled and unsettled the affairs of empires and the fate of republics, when diplomacy and the sword have proved futile. “Certainly,” observes Lucian, “more women have obtained honor for their beauty than for all other virtues besides.” And Tasso has said that “beauty and grace are the power and arms of a woman,” while Ariosto declares that, after every other gift of arms had been exhausted on man, there remained for woman only beauty — the most victorious of the whole. There is a great and terrible testimony of the power of female beauty in the history which Homer gives us of Helen. When she shows herself on the ramparts of Troy even the aged Priam forgets his miseries and the wrongs of his people, in rapture at her charms.
And afterwards, when Menelaus came, armed with rage and fury, to revenge himself on the lovely but guilty cause of so much bloodshed, his weapon fell in her presence, and his arm grew nerveless.
Heavens! that a face should thus bewitch his soul,
And win all that’s great and godlike in it.
And so another poet has sung:
Fair tresses man’s imperial race ensnare,
And beauty draws us by a single hair.
But where are we to detect this especial source of power? Often forsooth in a dimple, sometimes beneath the shade of an eyelid, or perhaps among the tresses of a little fantastic curl!
Alas! I am ashamed to think what small things will often move the strongest and bravest of men. Many times in my life, in the company of kings and nobles, have I been forced to reflect upon the following words of the sublime Milton: —
For what admir’st thou? what transports thee so:
An outside ? Fair, no doubt, and worthy well
Thy cherishing, thy honoring and thy love, —
Not thy subjection!
I once knew a nobleman who used to try to make himself wise, and to emancipate his heart from its thraldom to a celebrated beauty of the court, by continually repeating to himself, — “but it is short lived,” — “it won’t last,” — “it won’t last.”
Ah, mel that is too true — it won’t last. Beauty has its date, and it is the penalty of nature that girls must fade and become wizened as their grandmothers have done before them.
The old abbey and the aged oak are more venerable in their decay ; and many are the charms around us, both of art and nature, that may still linger and please. The breaking wave is most graceful at the moment of its dissolution; the sun when setting is still glorious and beautiful, and though the longest day must have its evening, yet is the evening as beautiful as the morning — the light deserts us, but it is to visit us again; the rose retains after charms for the sense, and though it fall into decay, it renews its glories at the approach of another spring.
But for woman there is no second May! To each belongs her little day, and Time, that gives new whiteness to the swan, gives it not unto woman! The winner of a hundred hearts, in the very bud of her beauty, in the morn and liquid dews of youth even, cannot obtain a patent for her charms. “They all do fade as the leaf.” While the fair lady curls her hair, is it not imperceptibly growing grey?
To borrow an Arabian proverb, let her“ be light as the full moon,” yet when her eye is fullest of light, it is nearest the point where it begins to fade. The fuller the rose is blown, the sooner it is shed. When the peach is ripest — what next?
Let her head be from Greece, her bust from Austria, her feet from Hindostan, her shoulders from Italy, and her hands and complexion from England — let her have the gait of a Spaniard, and the Venetian tirelet her, indeed, be another Helen, and have a box of beauty to repair her charms withal — yet must she travel the same road where all the withered leaves do lie!
But this won’t do. In vain shall I try to preach beauty down. The world has had the sage reflection, and the warning, of the pulpits on this subject, for I know not how many thousands of years, and yet not a feather has been plucked from this bird of beauty nor an ounce of its potent sway destroyed.
So, without further philosophizing, we may set ourselves fairly to the business of this lecture, which is to discuss the beauty of woman, together with the means of its development and preservation.
I am impressed that some sketch of my own observations of the national types of beautiful women will be more interesting to you than any speculation, or theory on the subject, abstractly considered. It is not so interesting to listen to a theory of beautiful women, as to look at a beautiful woman.
As a general thing you have to look into the ranke of the nobility for the most beautiful women of Europe. And on the whole I must give the preference to the English nobility for the most beautiful women I have met with.
In calling to my mind the many I have seen, in the course of my life, I find myself at once thinking of the Duchess of Sutherland. She was a large and magnificent woman — a natural queen. Her complexion was light, and she might be considered the paragon and type of the beautiful aristocracy of England. I next think of Lady Blessington. She was a marvellous beauty. Kings and Nobles were at her feet. In Italy they called her the goddess. She was very voluptuous, with a neck that sat on her shoulders like the most charming Greek models, a wonderfully beautiful hand, and an eye that when it smiled, captivated all hearts. She was a far more intellectual type of beauty than the Duchess of Sutherland.
The present Duchess of Wellington is a remarkably beautiful woman — but with little intellect or animation. She is a fine piece of sculpture, and as cold as a piece of sculpture. The most famously beautiful family in England is the great Sheridan family. There were two sons who were considered the handsomest men of their day. Then there are three daughters, the Hon. Mrs. Norton, well known on this side of the Atlantic through her poverty and her misfortunes! Lady Blackwood, and Lady Seymour, who was the queen of beauty at the famous Eglinton Tournament. These three beautiful Sheridan sisters used to be called “the three Graces of England.” Lady Seymour has dark blue eyes, lrge, lustrous, and most beautiful; while ady Blackwood and Mrs. Norton have grey eyes, but full of fire, and soul, and beauty.
The women of France are not genrally beautiful, although they are very charming. The art of pleasing, or of refined and fascinating manenrs, is the first study of a French lady. But stil France is not without its beautifu women. The Marquise de la Grange was one of the most beautiful women I have met in Paris. She had an antique head and face, grave and dignified in her manners as Juno, and was altogether a grand study for an artist.
Eugenia, the Empress, is, however, handsomer still. When I last saw her she was certainly one of the most vivacious, witty, and sprightly women in Paris. All the portraits of her which I have seen in this country greatly exaggerate her size, for Eugenia is really a small woman. Before her marriage with the Emperor, and when she was the belle of Madrid, she evinced a great admiration for the celebrated pianist Louis Gotschalk, who has, I believe, carried off the hearts of half a million of girls in this country, without, poor fellow, being in the slightest degree cognizant of the fact himself. Eugenia caused him to be received into the best and most aristocratic families of Madrid.
The ladies of the Royal family of Russia are among the most beautiful women of Europe. The Grand Duchess Olga, eldest daughter of the late Emperor Nicholas, was so beautiful that even when she appeared in public the whole audience would rise up and receive her with shouts of applause. Her younger sister Marie, wife of the Duke of Leuchtenburg, was only less beautiful.
In Turkey I saw very few beautiful women. The style of beauty there is universally fat. Their criterion of a beautiful woman is that she ought to be a load for a camel. They are, however, quite handsome when young, but the habit of feeding them on such things as pounded rose leaves and butter, to make them plump, soon destroys it. The lords of reation in that part of the world treat women as you would geese — stuff them to make them fat.
Through the politeness of Sir Stratfor Danning, English Ambassador at Constantinople, who gave me a letter to a Greek lady residing in the Sultan’s harem, I was kindly permitted to visit, as frequently as I pleased, the inside of that institution, and look upon what they call in Turkey “the lights of the world.” Those “lights of the world” consisted of some five hundred bodies of unwieldy fatness.
Your American Plato, Mr. Ralph Emerson, would have exclaimed on seeing such a sight, — “What quantity!” With the exception of a few very young girls, there was not a beautiful woman in the whole vast accumulation of pounded rose-leaves and butter. The ladies of the harem gazed at my leanness with commiserating wonder; and every one wanted to remedy the horrible deformity. They paid many civil compliments to my face and foot—but were positively disgusted at my diminutive size. The ladies of Turkey are allowed very little exercise lest they should get thin.
The Circassians and Georgians are the most beautiful of the Eastern women.
The East Indian women are very beautiful from eleven to fifteen, but the flower soon withers, and at twenty they are old and wan. They eat and smoke a composition made of pounded tobacco and opium, called bhang, which is a great destroyer of beauty.
Italy has a type of female beauty which is marked and characteristic — dark, fiery, and bright as the sky that bends above them. A true Italian woman is all life, movement, gesticulation, and love. There is no life for a woman in Italy without plenty of love and intrigue. When old age has put out the fires of youth, they form Platonic love-affairs, and contrive, as they can, to go over a semblance of the old rounds of intrigue. But the women of Italy have this excuse, that their own husbands pay them very slight attentions, and the consequence is that the wife must look abroad for what satisfies her heart. Indeed I am inclined to believe that this remark holds pretty true in relation to more countries than Italy. As a general thing, husbands may thank themselves if their wives’ affections wander away from home. Fontenelle defines woman a creature that loves.” And if no violence, or neglect, or injustice, is done to her heart, she naturally clings to the object that first awakened the latent fires of her affections. It is a law of her moral being to do so. It is as natural for her to keep on loving that object, as it is for the flowers to give a back their odors to the sun and air. Not far from this philosophical point lies a mighty lesson for husbands. Gentlemen, if you please, if you would have your homes hold no heart but yours, see to it that your own hearts are always found at home.
The women of Italy have mostly dark eyes and dark hair. But a blonde is regarded as a miracle of beauty. Of such a type was the Countess Guiccioli, the mistress of Lord Byron.
The Spanish women are many of them very beautiful. But there are two distinct and very different types of beauty in Spain. In the North they are fair and blond. In the South they are mixed with Moorish blood, and are dark, have dark hair, with light eyes. The aristocratic Spaniards are generally fair haired.
In Germany I have seen some very beautiful blond women, who looked as fair and as clear as snow-flakes. I should say that the beautiful women of Germany are a type between the English and French. Indeed the German women are a remarkable type of handsome fine-looking women, and are the Very beau-ideal of the Teutonic race.
If we go back to the beginning of taste and fashion, we shall find that, for many an age, the twisted foliage of trees, and the skins of beasts, were the only garments which clothed the human race. Decoration was unknown, excepting the wild flower, plucked from the shrub, the shell from the beach, or the berry off the tree. Nature had few sophistications. The lover looked for no other attraction in his bride than the peach-bloom of her cheek — the downcast softness of her eye. In after times when avarice ploughed the world, or ambition bestrode it, the various products of the loom and the Tyrian mystery of dyes, all united to give embellishment to beauty, and attraction to woman’s mien. But even at that period, when the east and south laid their decorating riches at the feet of woman, we see by the sculptures yet remaining, that the dames of Greece — the then exemplars of the world, were true to the simple laws of nature.
The amply-folding robe cast round the form; the modest clasp and zone on the bosom; the braided hair or the veiled head — these were the fashions alike of the wife of a Phocion and the mistress of an Alcibiades.
A chastened taste ruled at woman’s toilet. And from that hour to this, the forms and modes of Greece have been the models of the poet, the sculptor, and the painter.
Rome, queen of the world, the proud dictatress to the Athenian and Spartan dames, disdained not to array herself in their dignified attire. And the statues of her virgins, her matrons, and her empresses, in every portico of her ancient streets, show the graceful fashion of her Grecian provinces.
It was the irruption of the Goths and Vandals which made it necessary for woman to assume a more repulsive garb.
The flowing robe, the easy shape, the soft, unfettered hair, gave place to skirts shortened for flight or contest — to the hardened vest, and head buckled in gold or silver.
Thence, by a natural descent, came the iron bodice, the stiff farthingale, and spiral coiffure of the middle ages The courts of Charlemagne, of the English Edwards, Henries, and Elizabeth, all exhibit the figures of women in a state of siege — such lines of circumyallation and out-works — such bulwarks of whalebone, wood, and steel-such impassable masses of gold, silver, silk, and furbelows met a man’s view, that before he had time to guess it was a woman that he saw, she had passed from his sight; and he only formed a vague wish on the subject, by hearing from an interested father or brother that the moving castle was a woman.
These preposterous fashions disappeared in England a short time after the Restoration. They had been a little on the wane during the more classic reign of Charles I., and what the pencil of Vandyke shows us, in the graceful dress of the Lady Carlisle and Sacharissa, was rendered yet more correspondent to the soft undulations of nature in the garments of the lovely but frail beauties of the second Charles’s court. But as change too often is carried to extremes, in this case the unzoned taste of the ladies thought no freedom too free, and their vestments were gradually unloosed of the brace, until another touch would have exposed the wearer to no thicker covering than the ambient air.
The matron reign of Anne, in some measure, corrected this. But it was not till the accession of the House of Brunswick that it was finally exploded, and gave way; by degrees, to the ancient mode of female fortification, by introducing the Parisian fashion of hoops, buckram stays, waists to the hips, and below them, screwed to the circumference of a wasp, brocaded silk stiff with gold, shoes with heels so high as to set the wearer on her toes, and heads, for quantity of false hair and height, to out-weigh and perhaps out-reach the tower of Babel.
When the arts of sculpture and painting, in their fine specimens from the chisels of Greece and the pencils of Italy, began to be again studied, taste began again to mould the dress of the female youth, after their most graceful fashion.
The health-destroying bodice was laid aside; the brocades and whalebone disappeared, and the easy shape and flowing drapery again assumed the rights of nature and of grace. The light hues of auburn, raven, or golden tresses, adorned the head in their native simplicity, putting aside the few powdered toupées which yet lingered on the brow of prejudice and deformity.
Thus, for a short time, did the Graces indeed preside at the toilet of beauty; but a strange caprice soon dislodged the gentle handmaids. Here stands affectation distorting the form into a thousand unnatural shapes, and there, ill-taste loading it with grotesque ornaments (and mingled confusedly) from Grecian and Roman models, from Egypt, China, Turkey, and Hindostan. All nations are ransacked to equip a fine lady; and after all, while she may strike a contemporary beau as a fine lady, no son of nature could possibly find out that she represents an elegant woman.
In teaching a young lady to dress elegantly, we must first impress upon her mind that symmetry of figure ought ever to be accompanied by harmony of dress, and that there is a certain propriety in habiliment, adapted to form, complexion, and age. To preserve the health of the human form, is the first object of consideration, for without that you can neither maintain its symmetry nor improve its beauty. But the foundation of a just proportion must be laid in infancy. “As the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.” A light dress, which gives freedom to the functions of life, is indispensable to an unobstructed growth. If the young fibres are uninterrupted by obstacles of art, they will shoot harmoniously into the form which nature drew. The garb of childhood should in all respects be easy-not to impede its movements by ligatures on the chest, the loins, the legs, or the arms. By this liberty, we shall see the muscles of the limbs gradually assume the fine swell and insertion which only unconstrained exercise can produce. The chest will sway gracefully on the firmly poised waist, swelling in noble and healthy expanse, and the whole figure will start forward at the blooming age of youth, and early ripen to the maturity of beauty.
The lovely form of woman, thus educated, or rather thus left to its natural growth, assumes a variety of charming characters. In one youthful figure, we see the lineaments of a wood-nymph, a form slight and elastic in all its parts.
The shape, “
Small by degrees, and beautifully less,
From the soft bosom to the slender waist!
A foot as light as that of her whose flying step scarcely brushed the “unbending corn,” and limbs whose agile grace moved in harmony with the curves of her swan-like neck, and the beams of her sparkling eyes.
Another fair one appears with the chastened dignity of a vestal. Her proportions are of a less aerial outline. As she draws near, we perceive that the contour of her figure is on a broader and less flexible scale than that of her more etherial sister. Euphrosyne speaks in one, Melpomene in the other.
Between these two, lies the whole range of female character in form; and in proportion as the figure approaches the one extreme or the other, we call it grave or gay, majestic or graceful. Not but that the same person may, by a happy combination of charms, unite all these qualities in herself. But unless the commanding figure softens the amplitude of its contour with a gentle elegance, it may possess a sort of regal state, but it will be heavy and ungraceful; and on the other hand, unless the slight and airy form (full of youth and animal spirits) superadds to these attractions the grace of restraining dignity, her vivacity will be deemed levity, and her sprightliness the romping of a wild hoyden. No matter what charms such a one may possess, she would never be looked upon as a lady.
Young women, therefore, when they present themselves to the world, must not implicitly fashion their demeanors according to the levelling and uniform rules of the generality of school-governesses; but, considering the character of their own figures, allow their deportment and their dress to follow the bias of nature.
I have already observed, that during the period of youth, different women wear a variety of characters, such as the gay, the grave, etc., each of which has a style naturally its own; and even if it is found that this loveliest season of life places its subjects in varying lights, how necessary does it seem that woman should carry this idea yet further by analogy, and recollect that she has a summer as well as a spring, an autumn, and a winter. As the aspect of the earth alters with the changes of the year, so does the appearance of woman adapt itself to the time which passes over her. Like the rose, she buds, she blooms, she fades, she dies.
When the freshness of virgin youth vanishes when Mary passes her teens, and approaches her thirtieth year, she may then consider her day at the meridian; but the sun which shines so brightly on her beauties, declines while it displays them. A few short years, and the jocund step, the airy habit, the sportive manner, must all be exchanged for the faltering step and slow.” Before this happens, it would be well for her to remember, that it is wiser for her to throw a shadow over her yet unimpaired charms, than to hold them in the light till they are seen to decay. As each age has its appropriate style of figure, it is the business of discernment and taste to discover and maintain all the advantages of their due seasons. Nature having maintained a harmony between the figure of woman and her years, it is desirous that the consistency should extend to her deportment, and to the materials and fashion of her apparel. For youth to dress and appear like age, is an instance of bad taste seldom seen. When virgin, bridal beauty arrays herself for conquest, we say that she obeys an end of her creation; but when the wrinkled fair, the hoary-headed matron attempts to equip herself to awaken sentiments which, when the bloom on her cheek has disappeared, her rouge can never recall, we turn away in sorrow of disgust, and mentally exclaim, Alas, Madame! it were better for you to seek for charms in the mental and social graces of Madame de Sevigné, than the meretricious arts of Ninon de l’Enclos.
But, that in some cases wrinkles may be warded off, and auburn tresses preserve a lengthened freshness, may not be denied ; and when nature prolongs the youth of a Helen or a Cleopatra, it is not for man to see her otherwise. These, however, are rare instances, and in the minds of rational women, ought rather to excite wonder than desire to emulate their extended reign. But Saint Eyremond has told us, that “A woman’s last sighs are for her beauty,” and what this wit has advanced, my sex has been but too ready to confirm. A strange kind of art, a sort of sorcery, is prescribed in the form of cosmetics, to preserve female charms in perpetual youth. Alas, how vain! Were these composts concocted in Meda’s caldron itself, they would fail. The only real secret of preserving beauty lies in three simple Things — temperance, exercise, and cleanliness.
Temperance includes moderation at table, and in the enjoyment of what the world calls pleasure. A young beauty, were she as fair as Hebe, as elegant as the goddess of love herself, would soon lose those charms by a course of inordinate eating, drinking, and late hours.
No doubt that many delicate young ladies will start at this last remark, and wonder how it can be that any well-bred person should think it possible that pretty ladies could be guilty of the two first mentioned But I do not mean feasting like a glutton, nor drinking to intoxication. My objection is no more against the quantity than the quality of the dishes which constitute the usual repast of a woman of fashion.
Even if we take what is deemed a moderate breakfast, that of strong coffee, and hot bread and butter, you have got an agent most destructive to beauty. These things, long indulged in, are sure to derange the stomach, and by creating bilious disorders, gradually overspread the fair skin with a wan or yellow hue. After this meal, a long and exhausting fast not unfrequently succeeds, from nine in the morning, till five or six in the afternoon, when dinner is served up, and the half-famished beauty sits down to sate a keen appetite with peppered soups, fish, meats roasted, boiled, fried, stewed, game, tarts, pies, puddings, ice creams, cakes, &c., &c. How must the constitution suffer in digesting this melange! How does the heated complexion bear witness to the combustion within, and when we consider that the beverage she takes to dilute this mass of food and assuage the consequent fever of her stomach, is not merely water from the spring, but often poisonous drugs in the name of wines, you cannot wonder that I should warn this inexperienced creature against such beauty. destroying intemperance. Let the fashionable lady keep up this habit, and add the other one of late hours, and her looking-glass will very shortly begin to warn her of the fact that, “we all do fade as the leaf.” The firm texture of the form gives way to a flabby softness, the delicate prorportion yields to scraggy leanness or shapeless fat. The once fair skin assumes a pallid rigidity or a bloated redness, which the vain but deluded creature would still regard as the rose of health and beauty!
To repair these ravages, comes the aid of padding to give shape where there is none, stays to compress into form the swelling chaos of flesh, and paints of all hues to rectify the dingy complexion; but useless are these attempts — for, if dissipation, late hours, immoderation, and carelessness have wrecked the loveliness of female charms, it is not in the power of Esculapius himself to refit the scattered bark, or of the Syrens, with all their songs and wiles, to save its battered sides from the rocks, and make it ride the sea in gallant trim again. The fair lady who cannot so moderate her pursuit of pleasure that the feast, the midnight hours, the dance, shall not recur too frequently, must relinquish the hope of preserving her charms till the time of nature’s own decay. After this moderation in the indulgence of pleasure, the next specific for the preservation of beauty which I shall give, is that of gentle and daily exercise in the open air, Nature teaches us, in the gambols and sportiveness of the lower animals, that bodily exertion is necessary for the growth, vigor, and symmetry of the animal frame; while the too studious scholar and the indolent man of luxury exhibit in themselves the pernicious consequences of the want of exercise. Many a rich lady would give thousands of dollars for that full rounded arm, and that peach bloom on the cheek, possessed by her kitchen-maid; well, might she not have had both, by the same amount of exercise and simple living?
Cleanliness is the last receipt which I shall give for the preservation of beauty. It is an indispensable thing. It maintains the limbs in their pliancy, the skin in its softness, the complexion in its lustre, and the whole frame in its fairest light. The frequent use of the tepid bath is not more grateful to the senses, than it is salutary to health and beauty. It is by such ablutions that accidental corporeal impurities are thrown off, cutaneous obstructions removed, and while the surface of the body is preserved in its original brightness, many threatening, and beauty-destroying disorders are prevented. This delightful oriental fashion has for many years been growing into common use with well conditioned people all over the world; especially on the continent of Europe is this the case. From the Villas of Italy to the Chateaux of France, from the palaces of the Muscovite to the Castles of Germany, we everywhere find the marble bath under the vaulted portico or the sheltering shade. Every house and every gentleman of almost every nation except England and America, possesses one of these genial friends of health and beauty. But every beautiful woman may be certain that she cannot preserve the brightness of her charms without a frequent resort to this beautifying agent. She should make the bath as indispensable an article in her house as her looking glass.
This is the purest exercise of health,
The sweet refresher of the Summer heats;
Even from the body’s purity the mind
Receives a secret sympathetic aid.
Besides these rational and natural means of developing and preserving the charms of woman, there are undoubtedly many more artificial devices, by which a fair lady may keep up and show off her attractions to great advantage.
During my residence at Paris, bathing in milk was practised by every fashionable beauty who could possibly afford the expense of such a luxury. To such an extent was this custom carried, that there really became a great scarcity of milk for domestic purposes, until at length the Police discovered that the venders were in the habit of buying back the milk which had been used in the bath from the servants, and serving it over again to their tea and coffee drinking customers. In consequence of this practice, the price of the article was so advanced that while hundreds of fashionable women were swimming in milk every morning, thousands of families were obliged to dispense with the use of it in their chocolate and coffee.
But a far less expensive and probably more scientific bath for cleansing and beautifying the body, is that of tepid water and bran, which is really a remarkable softener and purifier of the skin.
The celebrated Madame Vestris slept every night with her face plastered in a kind of paste to drive back the wrinkles, and keep her complexion fresh and fair. This notorious beauty had her white satin boots sewed on her feet every morning, and of course they had to be ripped off at night, and the same pain could be worn but a single day.
This lady rejoiced in the reputation of having the handsomest foot and ankle of any woman in the world.
It is not an unfrequent custom with fashionable beauties at Paris, to bind their faces on going to bed at night with thin slices of raw beef, which is said to keep the skin from wrinkles, while it gives freshness and brilliancy to the complexion. But what a sight it would be for the lover to look upon the face of his beloved thus done into a sandwich, and bound up with a napkin! But these things are not for lovers to see — they are not even for lovers to hear; and I expect the gentlemen to have gallantry enough not to listen to a single word of the secrets I am now disclosing. The Spanish women are particularly proud of a small foot and a white hand, and to secure. this object, the poor creatures will torture themselves by wearing tight bandages on their feet in bed, and sleeping all night with their hands held up by pulleys, in order to make them bloodless and white. The women of the East beautify themselves by bathing and friction. The cosmetic of the Turks is friction. They rouge. themselves a little, and paint their eyebrows with sourma, and like other Eastern women, the nails of their hands and feet with henna. Eastern women never wear shoes in the house; but water and friction are the chief beautifiers in an Eastern lady’s toilet. One of the most famous cosmetics known to the fashionable beauties was the Crême de l’Enclos, the mysterious components of which were lemon juice, milk, and hite brandy. But there was a cosmetic still more famous known to the cunning beauties of the court of Charles II., which really possessed the power of calling the crimson stream of blood to the external fibres of the face, and produced on the cheeks a beautiful rosy color which was like the bloom of nature itself. In the time of George I., it was a custom with the beauties of the court to take quicksilver in order to render the skin white and fair. In some of the German States to this day, the women are in the habit of drinking the waters of arsenic springs to keep them young-looking and beautiful, but when once they begin this custom, they are obliged to continue it through life.
But I weary of this subject of Cosmetics, as every woman of sense will at last weary of the use of them, It is a lesson which is sure to come; but, in the lives of most fashionable ladies, it has small chance of being needed until that unmentionable time, when men will cease to make baubles and playthings of them. It takes most women two-thirds of their lifetime to discover, that men may be amused by, without respecting them; and every woman may make up her mind that to be really respected, she must possess merit, she must have accomplishments of mind and heart, and there can be no real beauty without these. If the soul is without cultivation, without refinement, without taste, without the sweetness of affection, not all the mysteries of art can make the face beautiful; and on the other hand, it is impossible to dim the brightness of an elegant and polished mind, its radiance strikes through the encasements of deformity, and asserts its sway over the world of the affections.
It has been my privilege to see the most celebrated Beauties that shine in the gilded courts of fashion throughout the world — from St. James to St. Petersburgh, from Paris to India, and yet I know of no art which can atone for the defect of an unpolished mind and an unlovely heart. That charming activity of soul, that spiritual energy, which gives animation, grace, and living light to the animal frame, is, after all, the real source of Woman’s Beauty. It is that which gives eloquence to the language of her eyes, which gives the sweetest expression to her face, and lights up her whole personnel as if her very body thought. I never myself behold a creature with such sweet and spiritual beauty, but I fall in love with her myself, and only wish I were a man that I could marry her.
Source: Lectures of Lola Montez (Countess of Landsfeld), Including her Autobiography (New York: Rudd & Carleton) 1859, pp. 85–123.